OKEECHOBEE – In Okeechobee, Labor Day weekend is rodeo weekend. Professional cowboys and cowgirls will compete for cash prizes and points toward national titles in the The Pete Clemons Labor Day Rodeo at the Historic Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Cowtown Arena, 1885 U.S., 441 North. On Saturday, Sept. 3, gates open at 5 p.m., and the rodeo starts at 7 p.m. On Sunday, Sept. 4, gates open at 5 p.m., and the rodeo starts at 7 p.m. On Monday, Sept. 5, gates open at noon, and the rodeo starts at 2 p.m.
There’s plenty of rodeo action within driving distance of communities in the Lake Okeechobee area. Rodeos range from kids trying their skills in youth competitions to professional rodeo riders competing for prize money and points toward national championships at events sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
According to the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association (PRCA), legend has it that American rodeo was born on July 4, 1869 when two groups of cowboys from neighboring ranches met in Deer Trail, Colo., to settle an argument over who was the best at performing everyday ranching tasks. That competition is considered to be the first rodeo which evolved into rodeo as we know it today.
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) was created almost by accident in 1936 when a group of cowboys walked out of a rodeo at the Boston Gardens to protest the actions of rodeo promoter W.T. Johnson, who refused to add the cowboys’ entry fees to the rodeo’s total purse.
The promoter finally gave in to the cowboys’ demands, and the successful “strike’’ led to the formation of the Cowboys’ Turtle Association. The cowboys chose that name because, while they were slow to organize, when push finally came to shove, they weren’t afraid to stick their necks out to get what they wanted. In 1945, the Turtles changed their name to the Rodeo Cowboys Association, and in 1975, the organization became the PRCA.
PRCA Rodeo events include bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, team roping, tie down roping, barrel racing and breakaway roping.
Ranch rodeos attract working cowboys who work on South Florida ranches. The events in a ranch rodeo are based on the actual skills the cowboys use to work cattle. Unlike PRCA events, ranch rodeo is a team sport. Just as the cowboys work together on a ranch, they work together and help each other in the arena events.
Another difference is the equipment used. While PRCA cowboys use special rodeo saddles and equipment, those in ranch rodeos use the same equipment and tack that the cowboy uses in everyday work.
In addition to events such as calf roping and bronc riding, events in a ranch rodeo may include team doctoring, team sorting, wild cow milking, calf branding, relay race, double mugging and colt riding (sometimes called the wild horse ranch.) In these events, the team works together to perform a task similar to those done on ranches. There are a few differences. The “brand” in the rodeo is covered with chalk or paint. “Doctoring” is indicated by dabbing a bit of paint on a cow to indicate giving it medicine.
Ranch rodeo rules vary from state to state and even from rodeo to rodeo according to Dusty Holley, Florida Cattlemen’s Association director of field services. For those new to the sport, the announcer explains the rules to the spectators as the rodeo unfolds.
Bronc riding is similar to that seen in other rodeos, but closer to what actually happens on a ranch when a horse decides to start bucking. For colt riding, instead of starting with a bronc in a chute, a haltered horse is in the arena, held by one member of the team while the others attempt to saddle it and then one team member must mount the horse and ride it to the end of the arena. This is no easy task and it is not unusual for this event to have no successful rides. This event is also sometimes called the wild horse race.
In the double-mugging event, one person will rope a yearling calf and other team members will help take the yearling to the ground and secure the animal with rope.
Florida High School Rodeo
The Florida High School Rodeo Association hosts competitions for rodeo teams from Florida High Schools. Rodeo contestants travel around the state competing in a series of high schools earning points toward their state rankings. The top 15 in each event competes in the state finals, and the top four finishers in each event at the state level go on to compete in the National High School Rodeo Finals. Contestants must be enrolled in high school and be in good standing. Report cards must be turned in every nine weeks.
The Florida Junior High School Rodeo Association is a division of the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. The top 20 in each event at the end of the season move on to compete at the Florida State Finals. The top four in each event after state finals then have the option of moving on to compete at the national finals. The 2023 FHSRA State Finals will be held at the Okeechobee County Agri-Civic Center May 11-14.
Professional Bull Riding
The rules are simple: Place a wiry cowboy on the back of a hulking, snorting temperamental 2,000 pound bull and see if he can stay on for an eternal eight seconds to the bull. Headquartered in Colorado, the Professional Bull Riders, Inc. was created in 1992 when a group of bull riders broke away from the traditional rodeo scene seeking mainstream attention for the sport of professional bull riding. They felt that, as the most popular event at a rodeo, bull riding deserved to be in the limelight and could easily stand alone.
More than 1,200 bull riders from the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, and Mexico hold PBR memberships. They compete in more than 300 bull riding events per year on either the elite tour, the Touring Pro Division, or the PBR International circuits. The ultimate goal for PBR athletes each year is to qualify for the prestigious PBR World Finals in Las Vegas where the coveted title of PBR World Champion is decided.
Mexican rodeos or charreadas include some familiar rodeo events, such as bull riding (although instead of riding for eight seconds, the contestant tries to stay on until the bull stops bucking), and some events that are not seen in traditional rodeos in the U.S. such as trick riding. Mexican rodeos are also known for colorful traditional costumes and pageantry. Music plays a big part in Mexican rodeos, which are as much a social gathering as a sporting event.
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